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The Wallabout 
Prison Ships 








Edition limited to 300 copies, 

1 r f ) 

of which this is No.... 

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A 7 

Copyright 1920 

Eugene L. Armbruster 

November 24th, 1920 




Introduction . . . . . . -4 

The Navy ...... 5 

Prisoners in Time of Dire Need 

The Prison Ships . . . . . 14 

Prisoners in England . . . . 23 

Conclusion ....... 24 

Appendix ....... 28 



Research work in local history, extended over a period 
of more than a fourth of a century, has often brought before 
the writer contradictory statements regarding the Wallabout 
Prisonships. During all these years, whenever there had been 
occasion to mention Wallabout Bay, he disposed of the matter 
by stating "this is the place where the Prison-ships were sta 
tioned during the Revolutionary War." Finally, however, his 
interest was aroused by reading again and again the state 
ments of other writers, and he set out to search among the 
oldest available sources for original records. Not taking the 
judgment of later writers, he gathered the fragments, in a 
similar way as they had done, hoping thus to be enabled to 
get a clearer vision of the case. He soon found that the earlier 
writers could not be considered impartial, as their families, 
almost without an exception, had had members among the 
prisoners in the New York City Prisons or else on these 
Prison ships. They were human and could not forget the 
misery which their kinsmen had endured. But they were 
also honest enough to mention such facts which would throw 
kindlier lights upon this dark scene, and, further, often 
expressed their own doubts as to the correctness of some 
statements, which they were forced to incorporate into their 
narratives. As these writers, without exception, have con 
demned the Prison ships, it would be wasting time to quote 
each one separately. After almost one and a half centuries 
have since rolled by, it may be well to look into the case once 
more, from our 20th century point of view, making use of all 
sources now at our command. We may today better under 
stand the causes of some happenings which appeared to the 
unfortunate prisoners to be intended cruelty. We further 
have the benefit of the records compiled in later years, scanty 
though they be. 


[J. Fenimore Cooper s Naval History] : "The documents 
connected with the early history of the American Navy were 
never kept with sufficient method and the few that did exist 
have become much scattered and lost in consequence of there 
having been no regular Navy Department, the authority of 
this branch of the government having been exercised through 
out the whole war by Committees and Boards, the members 
of which have probably retained many documents of interest as 
vouchers to authenticate their own proceedings. Among other 
defects it has become impossible to establish, in all cases, 
who did and who did not actually serve in the Marine of the 
United States, officers so frequently passing from the Priva 
teers into the public vessels, and from the public vessels to 
the Privateers, as to leave this important branch of our subject 
involved in much obscurity. The officers in the Navy of the 
Confederation also derived their authority from different 
sources, a circumstance which adds to the difficulties. In a 
good many instances Congress made the appointments ; subse 
quently the Marine Committee possessed this power and 
finally even the commanders of squadrons and ships were put 
in possession of blank commissions to be filled at their discre 
tion. The men who acted under the authority of Washington 
at the commencement of the war were not in the Navy, as 
some of these men were later rewarded ranks in the service. 
Congress passed a resolution on October 13, 1775, which 
directed a Committee of Three to fit out two swift sailing ves 
sels of 10 and 14 guns respectively to intercept the British trans 
ports intended for the Army at Boston. On October 30, this 
committee was increased to seven, and two ships of 20 and 36 
guns respectively were ordered to be provided. In December, 
1775, Congress ordered thirteen ships to be built by the Colo 
nies, and the Marine Committee was increased so as to have 
one member for each colony. A Continental Navy Board 
was established in November, 1776; a Board of Admiralty was 
established in October, 1779. A Secretary of the Navy was 

chosen in February, 1781. An Agent of the Marine was 
appointed in August, 1781, who had full control of the service/ 
(The Navy Department was not established until 1797.) 

"In June, 1776, American cruisers captured about 500 
British soldiers upon transports; this not only weakened the 
enemy s army, but also checked his intention of treating 
American prisoners as rebels, by giving the colonists the 
means of retaliation, as well as of exchange. English accounts 
state that near a hundred privateers had been fitted out in 
New England alone in the first two years of the war, and the 
British seamen employed against the United States are said 
to have been 26,000. The Remembrancer, an English work of 
merit, published a list of English vessels taken by American 
cruisers in 1776, in all 342, of which number 44 were recap 
tured, 18 released and 4 burned. The Americans lost many 
privateers and merchantmen from time to time, and the war 
became very destructive for both sides. The British lost 467 
sail of merchantmen during 1777, though they kept a force of 
about 70 men-of-war along the American coast. Many 
American Privateers fell into the hands of the British, and a 
scarcity of men began to be felt in consequence of the numbers 
detained in English prisons. In 1778 the war broke out 
between England and France, and a French fleet appeared in 
July in the American seas and relieved the United States 
greatly. The British destroyed six of their ships near New 
port to prevent their falling into the hands of the French. 
(England also declared war on Holland at the end of the year 
1780.) In the summer of 1776 the nautical enterprise of the 
country had been let loose upon the British commerce. Some 
thing like 800 British sail of merchantmen were captured dur 
ing the first two years of privateering; then the effort of the 
Americans necessarily lessened, while the precaution of the 
British increased. Owing to the want of ships in the Navy 
many officers of the Navy were compelled to seek service in 
the Privateers." 

The British regarded the American colonies as their 
rebellious colonies. The damage done by the Privateersmen 
to the British ships was enormous, and the Britons could at 

all times easier endure anything else than interference with 
their supremacy upon the seas. Nearly all wars carried on 
by that country were based upon the principle that England 
must rule the seas, and whoever interferes with that principle 
is their bitter foe, and will always be treated as such. Hence 
the hatred of small minds among the British officials against 
the unfortunate crews of American Privateersmen who fell 
into their hands and were sent to the prison ships. 


The crews of these Privateersmen were mostly healthy 
young men from the New England colonies, but food was 
scarce on land and consequently also on board of ships. The 
health of these men was soon undermined, after they became 
located in the prison ships. 

[Jones New York during the Revolution, I, p. 599, from 
Force, 5th Series, Vol. I, p. 835] : "Washington wrote on 
August 9, 1776, to the President of Congress regarding the 
Army : We have fit for duty 10,514 men ; sick, present, 3,039 ; 
sick, absent, 629; in command, 2,946; on furlough, 97; total, 
17,225. Every day more or less are taken down. These things 
are melancholy, but they are nevertheless true. I hope for 

[Paul Allen s American Revolution, Vol. II, p. 212] : "The 
American soldiers in active service are described as having 
been at one period without clothes and shoes and covers to lie 
on. Pierre Van Cortland writes under January 30, 1780, to 
the Committee of Rombout Precinct that the troops of the New 
York lines are almost destitute of shirts. Washington writes : 
The soldiers eat every kind of horse food but hay. Clothing 
became so scarce in the Highlands that a building was erected 
at Fishkill as a retreat for naked men. Soldiers patched their 
clothes until patches and clothes both gave out, and they were 
sent to this retreat. The army suffered extreme privation 
during the winter of 1779-80." 

The shortage in everything on the American side was 
paralleled by a shortage on the British side. The British asked 


Washington to exchange prisoners. Congress insisted that 
its resolution should be complied with. Washington said: 
"It may be thought contrary to our interest to go into an 
exchange, as the enemy would derive more immediate advan 
tage from it than we should. I cannot doubt that Congress 
will authorize me through commissioners to settle a cartel, 
any resolutions heretofore to the contrary notwithstanding." 

[Jones New York during the Revolution, Vol. II, p. 425 ; 
from Force s American Archives, 5th Series, Vol. Ill, p. 838] : 
"The known shortage of provisions in New York during No 
vember and December, 1776, and January and February, 1777, 
from which the British Army suffered, had a good deal to do 
with the famine and mortality of the prisoners of war at that 
period. Washington himself attributes them to this cause in 
a letter to Col. Atlee." 

[Jones New York during the Revolution, Vol. II, p. 425 ; 
from Force s American Archives, 5th Series, Vol. Ill, p. 858] : 
"Provisions in general were scarce and dear, flour in particular, 
and all kinds of vegetables, that our officers who are prisoners 
with the enemy are walking about, but the soldiers are closely 
confined and allowed but half allowances, that the prisoners 
were very sickly and died fast, is the testimony of David Hunt 
of Westchester, a known friend to America, as taken and 
reported by General McDougal on November 26, 1776, four 
days previous to which he had left New York." 

[Stiles History of Brooklyn, Vol. I, p. 341] says under 
March, 1779: "Flour exhausted. Hessians at Brooklyn 
received damaged oatmeal. The British were expected to 
surrender in order to escape starvation, when supply ships 
arrived. Fuel always very scarce." 

[Valentine s New York Common Council Manual, 1853, 
p. 464] : "The winter of 1780 was so intensely cold that two 
cakes of ice completely closed the North River from Powle s 
Hook Ferry to that of Cortlandt Street. Hundreds of persons 
crossed daily ; artillery, sleighs with provisions and stores of 
all kinds passed the bridge of ice. It continued some con- 
considerable time. Governor Tryon caused the same to be 
measured and found the North River in that place 2,000 yards 



[Onderdonck s Revolutionary Incidents of Suffolk Co. 
and Kings Co., p. 233] : "December, 1781, Washington said: 
For two years past no complaints have been made of the treat 
ment of land prisoners in New York. The suffering of seamen 
for some time past arises mostly from the want of a general 
regulation, that no American Privateersmen should set their 
prisoners free, whereas now the British prisoners enter the 
American service or are allowed to escape, so that the balance 
of prisoners is against the Americans. " 

Washington had been compelled, a year earlier, to decline 
the exchange of prisoners. When the British had offered to 
send in exchange for British seamen, American Naval Prison 
ers, there were no British seamen at hand, and when they 
offered to take British soldiers instead, Washington said, 
though urged by humanity, such exchange was not politic. 
It would give force to the British and add but little to their 
own, few of the American Prisoners belonging to the Army 
and the enlistment of those who did, nearly being expired. 
Again, in 1782 he had to refuse such offer, saying few or none 
of the Naval Prisoners in New York belonged to the Conti 
nental service. About that time he communicated with the 
British Admiral Digby, trying to improve the conditions of 
these prisoners. He said : "I am informed that the principal 
complaint is that of their being crowded, especially at this 
season (July) in great numbers on board of foul and infectious 
Prison ships, where disease and death are almost inevitable." 
Lewis Pintard was appointed to look after the welfare of the 
Prisoners, Congress furnishing him with some funds and he 
adding his own funds until he became embarrassed. His worl; 
was continued by his nephew, John Pintard. 

[Dunlap s History of New York, Vol. II, p. 239] : "Jan 
uary 29, 1781, David Sprout, Commissary of Naval Prisoners 
in North America, in a letter to Abraham Skinner, the Ameri 
can Commissary of Prisoners, defends the treatment aboard 
the Prison ships, acknowledging that very many of the Prison 
ers are sick and dying, etc., etc. He says he has offered to 
exchange Prisoners, man for man, for as many as shall be 
sent within the British lines." 

[Stiles History of Brooklyn, Vol. I, p. 356] : "British 
General permitted Prisoners on the Jersey in 1782 to petition 
Washington for help. The Prisoners promised, if their release 
could be procured, they would gladly enter the American 
Army and serve during the remainder of the war as soldiers." 
Answer, ibid, p. 357: "The officers of the General Govern 
ment only took charge of those seamen who were captured 
by the vessels in the service, and therefore had not enough 
seamen to give in exchange." 

[Onderdonck s Rev. Inc., Suffolk Co. and Kings Co., 
p. 240] : Under June 1, 1782, British Commissary Sproat 
(or Sprout) wrote to the American Commissary Skinner, in 
forming him, by order of Admiral Digby, that "the very great 
increase of Prisoners and the heat of the weather now baffles 
all our care and attention to keep them healthy. Five ships 
have been taken up for their reception to prevent their being 
crowded, and a great number permitted to go on parole. In 
winter and during cold weather they lived comfortably, being 
supplied with warm clothing, blankets, etc., purchased with 
the money I collected from the charitable in the city, but now 
the weather requires a fresh supply, something light and suit 
able for the season, for which you will be pleased to make the 
necessary provision, as it is impossible for them to be healthy 
in the rags they now wear, without a single shift of clothing 
to keep them clean." Skinner replied under June 9: "From 
the present situation of the American Naval Prisoners on 
board your Prison ship, I am induced to propose to you the 
exchange of as many of them as I can give you British Naval 
Prisoners for, leaving the balance already due you to be paid 
when in our power. (Upwards of 1,300 Naval Prisoners have 
been sent more than we have received.) We are unable at 
present to give you seamen for seamen, and thereby relieve 
the Prison ships of their dreadful burden; but it ought to be 
remembered that there is a large balance (Sproat says only 
245. Ed.) of British soldiers due the U. S. since February 
last, and we may be disposed to place the British soldiers in 
our possession in as disagreeable a situation as the men are 
on board the Prison ships." Sproat replies June 9, and refuses 
a partial exchange. 

Washington said : "Exchanging seamen for soldiers was 
contrary to the original agreement. Officers should be ex 
changed for officers, soldiers for soldiers, seamen for seamen, 
and citizens for citizens. It would be contrary to the practice 
of other nations and the soundest policy, by giving the enemy 
a great and permanent strength. But as the misery and mor 
tality which prevailed among the Naval Prisoners was pro 
duced almost entirely by the mode of confinement, being 
closely crowded in infectious ships, he would write to Admiral 
Digby, for it is preposterously cruel, he said, to confine 800 
men in one ship at this sultry season. We have the means 
of retaliation in our hands, which we should not hesitate to 
use, by confining the land prisoners with as much severity as 
our seamen are held. 

[Jones New York During the Revolution, Vol. I, p. 351.] 
Judge Jones blames Joshua Loring, the American Commissary 
of Prisoners, for the death of many American Prisoners, say 
ing that he appropriated two-thirds of the rations, actually 
starving 300 before an exchange took place in February, 1777. 
Hundreds were so enfeebled that numbers died when released 
and reached their homes, or even on their way home. 

[Watson s Annals of New York, p. 332] : "Our officers, 
it seems, but rarely visited their countrymen prisoners, saying 
as their reason, to what purpose repeat our visits to these 
abodes of misery and despair when they had neither relief to 
administer nor comfort to bestow. They rather chose to turn 
the eye from a scene they could not ameliorate. It was not 
without remark, too, that there was an impediment to their 
release by exchange maintained by the American rulers them 
selves, who were either unable or unwilling to sustain a direct 
exchange, because they foresaw that the British soldiers, when 
released, would immediately form new combatants against 
them, whereas our own men, especially of the militia, were 
liable to fall back into non-combatants, and perhaps, withal, 
dispirit the chance of new levies. Perhaps the stoical virtue 
of the rigorous times made apathy in such a cause the less 
exceptionable. On the other hand, the British wished the 
Prisoners to apostatize, and nothing was so likely to influence 
defection as the wish to escape from sickness and starvation. 

1 1 

[Watson s Annals of New York, p. 338] : "It has always 
been to me a strange and unexplained thing why the American 
families in New York did not do more than they did for the 
Prisoners, while the British merchants in London subscribed 
$20,000 for the American Prisoners in England. We hear 
nothing of similar doings by New Yorkers at home ! They 
could not have been all Tories, and all hardhearted, and yet, 
somehow, they were sadly neglected." 

Captive officers of the land and sea forces were exchanged 
for men of same rank. Soldiers, sailors (of the Navy) and 
citizens were exchanged for soldiers, sailors and citizens. Cap 
tives taken on American and French Privateersmen and mer 
chantmen, when landed in English ports, were exchanged for 
British Prisoners at Brest, France, but the men of the same 
class, when landed in American ports, were brought to the 
Prison ships in the Wallabout and had to remain there. 

[The Adventures of Ebenezer Fox.] Fox tells us, on 
page 133 : "The long detention of American sailors on board 
of British ships was to be attributed to the little pains that 
were taken by our countrymen to retain British subjects who 
were taken prisoners on the ocean during the war. Our Priva 
teers captured many British seamen, who, when willing to 
enlist in our service, as was generally the case, were received 
on board of our ships. Those who were brought into ports 
were suffered to go at large, for in the impoverished condition 
of the country no state or town was willing to subject itself 
to the expense of maintaining prisoners in a state of confine 
ment to provide for themselves. In this way the number of 
British seamen was too small for a regular and equal exchange. 
Thus the British seamen, after their capture, enjoyed the bless 
ings of liberty, the light of sun, and the purity of the atmos 
phere, while, the poor American sailors were compelled to drag 
out a miserable existence amid want and distress, famine and 
pestilence. As every principle of justice and humanity was 
disregarded by the British in the treatment of these prisoners, 
so likewise every moral and legal right was violated in com 
pelling them to enter into their service." 

The British finding that they had a great number of Amer 
ican and French Prisoners at their hands, for which existed no 
possibility of exchange during the war, which had to be clothed 
and fed, when clothing and food were very scarce, encouraged 
the Prisoners to secure their liberty for money. Fox tells us 
on page 131 that within a certain period 200 disappeared on 
the Jersey. The money was given to the officers on board 
and the Prisoners were reported dead. On page 135 Fox men 
tions 300 men were pressed into British service at one occa 
sion. They were selected by an officer and ordered to leave 
the ship and go with him. 

The Americans, however, used the same method to 
increase their forces. Paul Allen, in his American Revolution, 
Vol. II, p. 257, says: "The French king consented to the 
desire expressed by Congress to recruit for their ships among 
the English Prisoners in France, requiring only that it should 
be managed with prudence and precaution. The British were 
short of men on board their ships ; the American sailors, kept 
confined upon the Wallabout Prison ships were a burden, but 
could become a valuable asset if they enlisted in the British 
Navy. Sentiment or patriotism were not to be considered, 
for the British existed only one way of looking upon this mat 
ter. The following article shows how they acted in a similar 
case 38 years earlier, when the victims were men of their own 
kind : 

[Her Majesty s Navy, by Lt. C. R. Low, Vol. I, p. 173] : 
"During the war with Spain Commodore Anson s squadron of 
five ships-of-war and a few small ships was delayed in 1740 
by the want of men, but to fill up the required 300 he could 
only obtain 170, of whom 98 were marines and 32 convales 
cents from the hospitals. The troops were to consist of 500 
out-pensioners of Chelsea Hospital, of whom, however, only 
250 were embarked, all those who could walk having deserted. 
Such were the conditions under which too often ships were 
manned in days when even the press gangs failed to supply 
the proper complement. To fill the place of the 240 invalid 
deserters, 210 marine recruits, wholly undisciplined, were em 
barked, and thus manned the squadron sailed on September 18 


from Portsmouth on a commission which was to last three 
or more years in waters where the British flag was wholly 
unknown (i. e., the Pacific Ocean, where the squadron was to 
harry and plunder the Spanish settlements) and where the 
succor of a friendly port was out of the question. The bar 
barity of sending out to die, veterans and invalids, who had 
devoted their health and the best years of their lives to the 
service of their country, was only equalled by the folly of 
expecting any efficient service from men thus crippled." 

All sorts of news and rumors relating to the Prison ships 
were published in the newspapers of the various cities, some 
no doubt being exaggerated. Clippings from these papers 
were later used in compiling the story of the Prison ships. 
The diary of Captain Jabez Fitch, a prisoner on the Jersey, 
furnishes a good illustration for this. He states that the cap 
tives were told all kinds of untrue stories of late events, that 
the Indians were ravaging the frontier towns all through the 
country, etc., etc. The Prisoners were allowed to send one 
of their number, a captain, to Connecticut, with letters for their 
friends, to procure clothing, money, etc., for them. Through 
their letters all the false reports, which the Prisoners in good 
faith had mentioned therein, were spread through Connecticut. 
Newspapers printed such news, which were apt to become 
incorporated in the various narratives, compiled and published 
in later years. 


[Stiles History of Brooklyn, Vol. I, p. 60] : "The Prison 
ships were condemned vessels of war, totally unsuitable for 
places of confinement, and while the abstract right of the 
enemy to use them as such is unquestionable, yet there was 
not the least necessity of so doing, when within a stone s throw 
were broad acres of unoccupied land, much better suited for 
the purpose." 

But the very fact that the near-by land was unoccupied 
made it unsuitable for the purpose. Building material was 
not obtainable. The barracks for the British troops were built 
with lumber procured by taking down frame church buildings, 


some far out on the island. Dr. Stiles says further : "In evi 
dence that the Americans did not question the right of the 
British to use these ships for prisons, we may cite the fact that 
in 1782 a vessel fitly named the Retaliation was fitted up as a 
Prison ship, moored in the Thames River, near New London, 
Connecticut, and used as a place of confinement for captured 
British seamen." 

[Jones Hist, of N. Y. during the Revolutionary War, 
Vol. I, pp. 705-710.] Judge Jones, the Loyalist, describes the 
American Prison ships, alias Fleet Prison, at Esopus Landing 
and the treatment of the British Prisoners aboard. 

[Stiles Hist, of Brooklyn, Vol. I, p. 333] : The first 
Prison ship to arrive at the Wallabout was the Whitby, in 
October, 1776. She was crowded ; there were over 250 prison 
ers aboard, including many landsmen (probably Whigs from 
Long Island). In 1777 two hospital ships were added, which 
were destroyed by fire, one in October, 1777, and the other in 
February, 1778. The Good Hope, Captain Nelson, came in 
January, 1780, but was destroyed by fire on March 5, 1780. 
The prisoners were temporarily put on board of ships winter 
ing in Wallabout Bay. In April, 1780, the Jersey arrived, 
being used as the receiving ship. She took over all prisoners 
excepting the sick, which were transferred aboard the Hope 
and Falmouth, two hospital ships, which also came to this 
place at that time. Andros, a prisoner and later clergyman, 
says: "When the hospital ships became overcrowded, some 
sick had to be kept on the Jersey." 

The Jersey, also called the Old Jersey, is generally de 
scribed as a condemned hulk, having become unfit from age. 
The name Jersey, applied to a ship of the line in the British 
Navy, was perpetuated through centuries, and a list of dates, 
taken from "Lives of the British Admirals," with the names 
of Commanders of the Jersey, a fourth-rate ship, is appended : 

1664. Hugh Hide, Vol. I, p. 57. 

1664. Sir John Holmes, Vol. I, p. 104. 

1665. Sir John Du Tiel, Vol. I, p. 163. 
1672. Sir William Poole, Vol. I, p. 27. 
1677. Richard Griffith, Vol. II, p. 384. 
1686. Sir William Jennings. 


[Vol. II, pp. 74-76; I, 377, 217; II, 364] : "Having been 
taken by the French some time prior in the West Indies, the 
Jersey was used by the French in 1694 to convoy a fleet of 
merchant ships, eastward bound. Admiral Russell, meeting 
this fleet, ordered the Resolute and Roebuck, fire ships, to 
attack the same. During the engagement the Jersey ran for 
the shore, where she struck on a ridge of rocks. The ship was 
fired by the crew and blew up. A later ship Jersey captured 
in 1711 a French merchantman. The Jersey of Revolutionary 
times was built, according to Dr. Stiles Kings Co., p. 56, in 
1736. In 1745 the Jersey, 60-gun ship, Sir Charles Hardy, 
Commander, fought the French 74-gun ship, Saint Esprit. She 
is again mentioned in 1759 as lying of! the harbor of Toulon, 
France, with two other ships-of-the-line, ready to attack the 
French fleet, then in Toulon Harbor. (Her Majesty s Navy, 
Vol. I, p. 318.) When the Jersey dropped her anchor for the 
last time, she had reached the age of 44 years, not a great age 
for war ships of the 18th century. These ships were built of 
sturdy timbers, and cut the waves until the enemy s guns or 
the elements sent them into their watery graves. As an 
example, we may cite the case of the Edgar, another battleship 
of the British Navy. 

[Her Majesty s Navy, Lt. C. R. Low, Vol. I, p. 107] : 
"Admiral Walker s flagship, the Edgar, 70 guns, was in 1711 
the oldest ship in the Navy, and there is a tradition that some 
of her timbers were actually in the ship in which the old Saxon 
king, after whom she was named, had sailed. The seamen of 
the fleet considered her loss ominous of disaster, but she was 
soon replaced by another bearing the same name, and as late 
as the Crimean War the Edgar was the name of the 90-gun 
screw-steam-line-of battleship, considered then one of the 
finest ships in the service." 

But the years spent in war service as transport for the 
troops to the Canadas and later to the United Colonies un 
doubtedly ran down the ship. The Leviathan of our day may 
serve as an excellent illustration of the case of the Jersey. 
Six years ago the Leviathan was one of the most admired 
ships upon the Atlantic Ocean. Two years of war service 


have left their marks upon the vessel, which, however, 
can be restored to her former condition. The Jersey was 
then a 64-gun, fourth rate, and had carried about 450 men. 
Now the guns and stores being removed, she was a very roomy 
vessel. The captive officers occupied the gunroom, the Ameri 
can sailors were kept in two compartments below the main 
deck, and the French and Spanish Prisoners in the lowest part, 
and among the latter the mortality must have been the great 
est. Besides the captain, Laird, there were two mates, a 
steward, a cook, about twelve sailors and as many old marines. 
The guard, consisting of about thirty men, was weekly re 
lieved, and was made up of groups of Englishmen, Hessians 
or Refugees. The rations of the Prisoners were equal to two- 
thirds of a British seaman s allowance, viz., two-thirds of three 
pounds of biscuit, one and a half pounds of flour, one pint of 
oatmeal, one pound of beef, two pounds of pork, two pounds 
of suet, two ounces of butter and a half-pint of peas per week. 
A Prisoner has stated that the putrid and damaged food given 
to the Prisoners was procured by the commissaries for little 
or nothing, and was charged to the English government at the 
prices of the best provisions. The hospital ships had awnings 
and windsails at the hatchways, to conduct fresh air between 
decks ; the hatchways were left open during the night on these 
boats. Patients received one gill of ordinary wine and twelve 
ounces of bad bread per day. The nurses were of the lowest 
type. Some benevolent New York citizens furnished all the 
sick on board the Frederick (a hospital ship at one time) con 
stantly with a pint each daily of Bohea tea, well sweetened 
with molasses. 

As the writer has already mentioned, the Prison ships 
have been condemned by all former writers on this subject. 
Space would not permit to repeat even a small fraction of 
what has been written along these lines during the past cen 
tury. The writer has gathered some material from the records 
left by the Prisoners, which, taken together, may show that 
there were a few brighter spots upon the dark path of these 
unfortunates. It is, however, not the writer s intention by 
emphasizing these points, while the accusations, pronounced 

so often against the British officials, are not brought to the 
front again, to have the jailers appear as guardian angels. 
In 1779 the English forces at New York just escaped surrender 
or else starvation, by the arrival of supply ships in the eleventh 
hour. This danger was for the time averted, but food and 
fuel remained scarce, and the Prisoners themselves did com 
mit many acts which irritated their keepers. Prisons were 
then not what they are to-day, and the Prisoners taken on 
Privateers had not the same claim? as those of the Army and 
Navy, and, lastly, they could not be exchanged. Every Amer 
ican soldier or sailor of the Navy in British hands represented 
a value in exchange for captured Britons. The men on the 
Jersey, if unable to purchase their liberty, could only wait for 
peace or death ; they were the victims of circumstances. Cap 
tain Dring, one of their number, tells us that they enjoyed 
their evening s pipe before being sent below deck, and that 
they celebrated July 4 in 1782 by bringing thirteen little Amer 
ican flags upon deck, which were planted there, but promptly 
torn down by the guards, by songs and patriotic speeches. 
A row with a guard followed at night, in course of which 
Americans were killed. Prisoners were allowed to send three 
messengers to Washington in 1782. Through these they sent 
promise that if their release could be procured they would 
gladly enter the American Army for service during the remain 
der of the war. Washington obtained improvement of their 
condition ; they received better bread, butter in place of the 
rancid sweet oil, which had heretofore represented their but 
ter ; an awning was provided and a windsail to conduct fresh 
air between the decks during the day. At night, however, the 
hatchway was fastened tightly, as formerly. Prisoners who had 
money, generally sewed in canvas bags or inside of their 
trousers, could buy their liberty, and were then reported among 
the dead. Friends were allowed to visit the Prisoners and 
bring various articles to promote their comfort. Correspond 
ence was allowed, subject to some kind of censure. In some 
cases Prisoners were permitted to visit their homes upon their 
word of honor to return to the Jersey at a specified time. 
Funeral services were allowed, if desired. A physician from 


the hospital ship Hunter visited the Jersey daily. Other Pris 
oners, however, say no physician came ever on board. Prison 
ers would not use buckets and brushes to cleanse the ship, and 
had to be forced to work the pumps. They also delighted in 
annoying the guards and the cook. A gondola was running 
continually between the shore and the Jersey, bringing seven 
hundred gallons of fresh water a day to the ship. General 
Johnson says the Jersey was supplied with water from a spring 
on his father s farm at the Wallabout. Four Prisoners under a 
guard carried the water to the gondola. Prisoners could drink 
all the water they wanted at the "butt," but carry away only 
one pint at a time. Surplus water was kept in butts in the 
lower hold which had never been cleaned. The Prisoners had 
recourse to these when they could procure no other water. 
The galley was a large copper vessel on the top deck, which 
was partitioned in the middle. On the one side peas and oat 
meal were boiled in fresh water. The meat was boiled on the 
other side in salt water, which was gotten from alongside the 
ship. This water was polluted, and the copper became cor 
roded from the use of the salt water. Prisoners who objected 
to this manner of boiling the meat could prepare the portion 
allotted to their respective mess in tin vessels. If, as General 
Johnson says, four Prisoners could carry the daily supply of 
water to the gondola, an additional Prisoner could have carried 
the needed supply for cooking the meat in fresh water. The 
danger, invited by the use of this polluted salt water, existed 
in the first line, for the Prisoners, but the crew and guard upon 
the ship were exposed to the same danger in the second line. 
If typhoid fever or any other contagious disease resulted from 
its use, the crew would have been infected, and the guard, 
which was relieved weekly, would have spread such disease to 
the camp, and eventually to the city. After sundown the men 
had to be below deck, and only one at the time was allowed to 
come on the main deck. Fox tells us that the guard on the 
hatchway was knocked down one night while engaged in con 
versation with his visitor from below deck. The other Pris 
oners, coming then on deck, were overpowered by the rest of 
the guard, which had been attracted by the noise. At another 


time, he says, Prisoners got possession of a boat, in which a 
visitor had come to the ship, got clear of the Jersey, and the 
Prisoners on board gave three cheers. After that when visitors 
came the Prisoners were driven below to remain there until 
the company had departed. On page 145 he states that a 
recruiting officer came to the ship. The Prisoners had filled 
a snuffbox with vermin. This they now opened upon the back 
of the officer s coat. All these things were bound to increase 
the hatred of the British against the men, and some of their 
earlier privileges were revoked. On page 108 Fox says : 
"Many of the Prisoners were foreigners (i. e. Frenchmen), and 

From "fojf s Adventures" 

Successful escape of a captain and four mates from the Jersey, at four o clock in the afternoon, 

one day in December, 1780. These men had been taken in a vessel from a Southern 

port and had been brought to the Prison ship a few days previous. 

were on the prison ship for two years, and had given up all 
hope of ever being exchanged. But far different was the con 
dition of the most numerous class of prisoners, composed 
mostly of young men from New England, fresh from home." 
On page 138: "The American sailors suffered even more than 
the soldiers, for they were confined on board of Prison ships 
in great numbers, and in a manner which showed that the 
British officers were willing to treat fellow-beings whose crime 

was love of liberty worse than the vilest animals." Stiles, 
Vol. I, p. 347, speaking of the guard, says: "Hessians were 
preferred, because of better treatment by them." Ostrander, 
History of Brooklyn, Vol. II, p. 11, says: "The soldiers in 
charge of the Prison ships were mostly Hessians, and were 
universally hated as mercenaries." 

[Watson s Annals, p. 336] : General Johnson says: "It 
has been generally thought that all the Prisoners died on board 
the Jersey; this is not true. Many may have died on board of 
her, who were not reported as sick, but all the men who were 
placed on the sick list were removed to the hospital ships, 
from which they were usually taken, se\ved up in a blanket, 
to their long home." 

[Onderdonck s Revolutionary Incidents of Suffolk Co. and 
Kings Co., p. 245] : Article dated "Fishkill, May 8, 1783. 
To all Printers of Public Newspapers : Tell it to the world 
and let it be published in every newspaper throughout America, 
Europe, Asia and Africa to the everlasting disgrace and in 
famy of the British king s commanders at New York, that 
during the late war it is said 11,644 American Prisoners have 
suffered death by their inhuman, cruel, savage and barbarous 
usage on board of the filthy and malignant British Prison ship 
called the Jersey, lying at New York. Britons, tremble, lest 
the vengeance of Heaven fall on your isle for the blood of these 
unfortunate victims. An American." [Ibid, p. 245.] Onder- 
donck says: "The above paragraph (i. e., letter of May 8, 
1783) is the original source of all the reports of the vast num 
bers who perished in the Prison ships. What number died 
cannot be even guessed at. All is rumor and conjecture, 
whether it was 11,500 or half that number." 

[Shannon s New York Common Council Manual of 1870, 
p. 795] has another letter, dated "Fishkill, July 10, 1783," and 
signed "Americanus." The writer of this letter shows himself 
to be an irreconcilable foe of Great Britain, and if he is, as it 
appears likely, also the writer of the letter of May 8, 1783, his 
accusation cannot be taken at its face value, because his hatred 
of Great Britain makes him incompetent to judge. At the 
conclusion of the war, in 1783, the Prisoners, who were still on 

board the Jersey, were liberated. The, ship was then aban 
doned. Worms soon destroyed her bottom, and she afterward 
sank. (Fox.) 

John Jackson acquired about 1791 the Remsen mill prop 
erty, on which the bodies from the Prison ships were interred. 
In cutting away the volley bank and making other improve 
ments, preparatory to a Navy Yard, in 1803, the bones were 
exposed. The townspeople wanted the remains deposited in 
the Dutch churchyard, but Jackson, being a Sachem of the- 
Tammany Society of New York, decided to have that society 
take care of the case, perhaps for political effect. Benjamin 
Romeyn was the Grand Sachem in 1808, and under his guid 
ance the remains were deposited in a tomb or vault upon land 
donated by Jackson. The cornerstone bore an inscription, 
part of which read as follows : "Sacred to the memory of that 
portion of American Seamen, Soldiers and Citizens, who per 
ished on board the Prison ships of the British at the Wallabout 
during the Revolution." Nothing further was done, and after 
about thirty years the lot on which the vault was situated was 
sold for taxes, and Romeyn acquired it. He built an ante 
chamber over the vault. Part of its inscription was : "The 
portal to the tomb of the 11,500 patriot Prisoners of War, who 
died in dungeons and pestilential Prison ships in and about 
the City of New York during the war of our Revolution." 
Romeyn was laid to rest here in 1844, aged 82 years. The 
inscription on the cornerstone of the vault of 1808 read thus: 
"American Seamen, Soldiers and Citizens." The inscription 
of the ante-chamber read : "11,500 Prisoners of War who died 
in dungeons and pestilential Prison ships in and about the City 
of New York." There are two probable reasons for Romeyn s 
version. First, some of the bodies of Prisoners who had died 
in dungeons in New York City, were brought to the Long 
Island shore for burial. Second, he himself had been for 
seven weeks a Prisoner in two of the prisons in New York 
City and wanted to be buried with these remains. Regarding 
the inscription of the cornerstone of 1808: There is no record 
extant which would plainly show that any American Soldiers 
were brought on board of any of the Wallabout Prison ships 


for permanent confinement. The first ship, the Whitby, un 
doubtedly had some landsmen prisoners, probably suspected 
persons, who had been taken on Long Island, because the 
prisons in the city had become overcrowded, and the great fire 
had caused a disturbance in all departments of the British 


[The Prisoners of 1776, Rev. R. Livesey, Boston, 1854.] 
Charles Herbert was taken prisoner on an American ship at 
the end of 1776, and was brought to England, where he re 
mained until the early part of 1779, when he was exchanged 
at Brest, in France. His diary affords some interesting side 
lights on the prisons in England. On the ships conditions 
were such that if these ships had been located for several years 
in an isolated bay, like the Wallabout, far from the homeland, 
in times of great want, they would have paralleled the case of 
the Jersey. Conditions of prisons on land were far superior 
and improved as time went on. Herbert writes : "Put on 
Bellisle ship in February, 1777; all Prisoners infected with 
vermin ; 20 to 30 have itch. Transferred to Tarbay ; 16 on 
sick list. Transferred to Burford ; 40 have itch. Have good 
beds. Cases of smallpox and yellow fever. June, 1777, 
transferred to Old Mill Prison, Plymouth. Cases of smallpox. 
Many escapes of Prisoners. Men complained at one occasion 
about quality of bread ; at another refused to eat the meat ; 
improvement followed. 7,000 were collected in England for 
support of Prisoners, and after the sum had been expended, a new 
subscription was taken." Page 218: "January, 1779: Prisoners 
had made an attempt to escape and were put on half allowance ; 
they killed a dog belonging to an officer and ate dog meat. There 
was a great talk in London about eating the dog, and an investi 
gation was set on foot to find out whether it was caused by actual 
necessity or not." During his stay at the prison Herbert says 
there were 380 Prisoners, of which 55 escaped, 19 died, 62 
enlisted on English ships. He was exchanged with others, 100 in 
all, at Brest, France. 

2 3 


The British seem to have used the ships at the Wallabour 
as their general prison for Naval Prisoners on this side of the 
Atlantic. They brought the men taken on French, Spanish 
and Dutch vessels into American harbors, and apparently con 
centrated them at the Wallabout. There were many French 
captives there. Thus it is likely that many of the dead on the 
Prison ships were not Americans. Onderdonck s Revolution 
ary Incidents of Suffolk Co. and Kings Co. have, on pages 
228 to 232, notes referring to these Prison ships: "July 10, 
1778: About 350 men confined between decks, half French 
men. New London, July 31, 1778: Last week 500 or 600 
American Prisoners were released from confinement at New 
York and sent out by way of New Jersey, being exchanged. 
New London, September 26, 1778: All American Prisoners 
are nearly sent out of New York, but there are 615 French 
Prisoners still there. New London, December 18, 1778: A 
flag with 70 men from the horrible Prison ships at New York 
arrived, thirty very sickly; 2 died since they arrived. New 
London, December 25, 1778: A cartel arrived here from New 
York with 172 American Prisoners, greater part sickly and in 
most deplorable condition, owing chiefly to the ill usage in the 
Prison ships, where numbers had their feet and legs frozen. 
February 4, 1779 : 136 from Prison ships sent to New London. 
January 23, 1779: 200 from Prison ships sent to New Jersey. 
August 18, 1779: 500 or 600 American Prisoners exchanged; 
47 from Prison ship Good Hope sent to New London ; for once 
all are well and healthy; only 150 left. September 1, 1779: 
180 American Prisoners sent to New London. September 29, 
1779: 117 American Prisoners sent to New London, chiefly 
from New England. New Haven, July 20, 1780: Only 3 
Marine Prisoners, it is said, in New York." 

In 1888 the Society of Old Brooklynites published a list of 
eight thousand names of Prisoners, which were confined on 
board the Jersey during the war. We quote from this publica 
tion : "After diligent research among the records of the Brit 
ish War Department, access to which was kindly permitted 


by Her Majesty s Government, this is all that can be found, 
and these are from the records of this one ship only. No record 
of the names of any of the Prisoners on the Prison ships 
Scorpion, John, Strombolo, Falmouth, Hunter, Prince of Wales 
and Transport can be found, though their log books make 
very frequent mention of Prisoners having been received on 
board. The list here printed is, therefore, but a small portion 
of those of our fellow citizens who were confined on board 
these floating Golgothas. Nor is it possible to designate which 
of those names died on board ; but authentic history within the 
memory of the parents of many now living proves that the 
number that died and were buried on our shores and over whose 
remains we now desire to erect a monument worthy of these 
patriots numbered more than 12,000." After this careful re 
search has been made it seems unlikely that we will ever get 
information as to the exact numbers. But this need not keep 
us from trying to arrive at figures in our own way, although it 
is not expected that these figures will be accepted by all read 
ers. General Johnson tells us that after April, 1780, the Jersey 
was the receiving ship. This fact may explain why the arch 
ives of the British War Department do not contain any records 
of the Prisoners on the other ships. When Prisoners were 
brought to the Wallabout they were delivered on board the 
receiving ship and their names entered upon the record book 
of the Jersey. If distributed over the other ships, for reason 
of sickness or any other reason, there was no necessity of 
recording their names again. The other ships were in 1780 
the Falmouth and Hope, both used as hospital ships. Later 
their place was taken by some of the ships named, but there 
were never more than five ships stationed at the Wallabout at 
one time, including the receiving ship Jersey. These other 
ships were considerably smaller than the Jersey. The Fal 
mouth was probably the next in size ; there was a frigate 
of this name in the British Navy, having in 1692 and in 1702 
forty-eight guns, and in 1707 fifty guns; she is again mentioned 
in 1760. The ship at the Wallabout was probably the suc 
cessor of this ship. It was the custom to apply the old name 
to a new ship of the same class, if the older ship was lost to an 


enemy, by foundering, fire, or else was retired for any other 
reason. The Good Hope in 1664 carried thirty-four guns, 
when she was captured in that year by the Dutch, the name 
was applied to a new vessel. The Hunter was in 1660 a sloop 
that is, a one-masted vessel ; the John at the same time was a 
ketch, that is, a heavily built, two-masted vessel, both with 
fore and aft rig. There was a Strombolo in 1696, but we have 
no description of this vessel. Taking it for granted that the 
ships found at the Wallabout between 1776 and 1783 were of 
the same class as the ships bearing the same names a century 
earlier, we have a base to work upon. 

We do know that the first ship stationed here in October, 
1776, was the Whitby. She is said to have been crowded, 
having 250 Prisoners aboard. Thus we have : 

1776 Whitby, a large transport, was moored near Rem- 

sen s Mill 250 

1777 Kitty and another large ship, which together took 

over the Prisoners from Whitby. Both were 
burnt, in 1777, and 1778 resp 500 

1778 Names of ships unknown 500 

1779 Names of ships unknown 500 

1780 Good Hope; had been lying in North River in 

October, 1778. Good Hope and Prince of 
Wales were Prison ships stationed in January, 
1779, in North River. In August, 1779, sails 
and rigging of Good Hope were offered for 
sale ; masts, spars and yards "as good as new." 
Removed to Wallabout in January, 1780; was 
burnt March 5, 1780. Transports were lying 
near by and Prisoners were put aboard the 
Woodland, where they remained a short time, 
until the Strombolo and Scorpion were gotten 
ready. The burnt hulk sank near what was 

known as Pinder s Island 500 

1780 Jersey had been lying at Franklin, near Tolmie s 
Dock, East River, in December, 1778. Was 
used as Prison ship, East River, 1779. Re 
moved to Wallabout end of April, 1780, as the 

receiving ship, and all Prisoners removed to 

this ship ; at first 400, but highest number 1,200 1,200 

1780 Falmouth, hospital ship 200 

1780 Hope, hospital ship, used in 1783 to transport 

Loyalists to New Brunswick 200 

1780 Scorpion, sloop of 4 guns, Prison ship, 120-300 

Prisoners 300 

1780 Strombolo (a fire ship), Prison ship 150-200 Pris 
oners 200 

1780 Hunter, sloop, hospital ship 200 

1781 Jersey, 850 Prisoners, on all ships 2,000 

1782 Jersey, May, 1,000 Prisoners; later increased; 

on all ships 2,000 

1783 Jersey, highest, 1,200; John (transport) used as 

Prison ship, supplementary to Jersey, 200-300 
Prisoners; Frederick, hospital ship; Persever 
ance, hospital ship; Bristol (packet), hospital 
ship (hulls offered for sale) ; in all 2,000 

Total of Prisoners 10,550 

Prisoners died and their places were taken by others, but 
those newcomers did not arrive in such numbers that one 
could say the 1,200 men which were on the Jersey on a New 
Year s Day were all dead by March or April and new Prison 
ers had taken their places. But let us suppose that the entire 
lot of prisoners aboard each ship died during the year and 
were replaced by the same number of newcomers by Decem 
ber 31, the total number of Prisoners kept on the Prison ships 
during the whole war would be 10,550. We do also know that 
many of the Prisoners were foreigners, especially Frenchmen, 
and that these were held in the lowest compartment of the 
Jersey. There was, therefore, a greater percentage of dead 
among these than among the Americans, and we may not be 
far from the right road when we set down their share as one-third 
of the total. Thus if all 10,550 Prisoners held on these ships 
during the entire war (always having in mind our list) died, 
the victims of the Prison ships consisted of 7,000 Americans 
and 3,550 foreigners. These figures are, however, as Onder- 


donck remarks, about that other figure of 11,500, pure guess 
work. The number of Americans thus arrived at, corresponds 
pretty closely to the figures furnished by the records in the 
British archives, and in justice to himself the writer must 
here say that in computing that list he was in no way guided 
by the other list. The American Prisoners did not all die, and 
a goodly number of them secured their liberty for money and 
were officially reported as dead. The British officials were 
careful to see them get off safely, to encourage others to follow 
their example. A smaller number escaped from the ships and 
reached points in New Jersey and Connecticut, where charit 
able people assisted them in getting back to their old homes 
and become re-united with their families. 

Soldiers in Revolutionary War 

New Hampshire, 12,407; Massachusetts, 67,907; 
Rhode Island, 5,908; Connecticut, 31,935; New 
York, 17,781; New Jersey, 10,726; Pennsylvania, 
25,678; Delaware, 3,386; Maryland, 13,912, Vir 
ginia, 26,678; North Carolina, 7,363; South Caro 
lina, 6,147; Georgia, 2,619. Total 232,447 

Of which lived in 1839 and received pensions 32,925 

Army, August 26, 1776 20,375 

Of which were on sick list 3,600 

British Army August 26, 1776, nearly 30,000 

American Prisoners taken August 27, 1776 1,097 

American Prisoners taken in 1776, total, held in New 

York City, of whom 4,131 were soldiers 10,000 

American Prisoners, total during war, 1776-1783, held 

in New York City 20,000 

Of which died : three-fourths 15,000 

From Connecticut papers referring to Prison ships : 
May, 1781 : 1,100 French and American Prisoners died 

last winter 1,100 

May, 1782: 500 Prisoners died during the past six 

months 500 



The Provost or Jail, later Hall of Records, used for more 
notorious prisoners. 

Sugar House, in Liberty Street, adjoining Middle Dutch 

Brick church, Beekman Street and Park Row, later site 
of Potter Building, afterwards used as hospital. 

North Dutch Church, corner William and Fulton Streets, 
made to hold 2,000 prisoners. Onderdonck says 800. 

Middle Dutch Church, east side Nassau Street, between 
Cedar and Liberty, made to hold 3,000 prisoners. 

Kings College (Columbia College), at end of (old) Park 
Place, used for a short time only. 

City Hall, Nassau and Wall Streets (Sub-Treasury), 
afterwards used as prison for whaleboatmen, etc. 

Bridewell, in (City Hall) Park, used for a time only. 

Quaker Meeting House, present Pearl Street, north end 
Hague Street, afterwards used as hospital. 

Presbyterian Church, Wall Street, nearly opposite end of 
New Street. 

Scotch Church, Cedar Street, south side, between Nassau 
and Broadway, afterwards used as hospital. 

French Church, Pine Street, north corner of Nassau 
Street, used afterward as ordnance store house. 

Rhinelander Sugarhouse, corner Duane and Rose Streets. 




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